One of the great things about mobile platforms is the opportunity they provide for developers to revisit and reinvent some of their back catalog of games.
One such company is US developer Liquid Entertainment, which released its popular RTS Battle Realms a decade ago.
It's been working on big console licences since then, but is now taking its first steps in bring the franchise to iOS and Android; at least in the shape of a collectible card-based game due in early 2012.
We caught up with Ed Del Castillo, Liquid's co-founder and president, to get his take on the opportunity for mobile games, as well as how Battle Realms will work in this new form.
PocketGamer: Why did you decide to bring Battle Realms to mobile devices now?
Ed Del Castillo: For years we've thought about how Battle Realms should resurface. The main hurdle was always one of ownership; we didn't want to give Battle Realms away to a publisher just for the sake of making a sequel.
Fans know Liquid poured its heart and soul into the original game, which led to an unbelievably rich universe for an RTS title. We strongly believe in the world, the characters, and the stories we have created. More so, the game's legacy is undeniable - there was an actual Battle Realms float this February at a gaming-themed parade in the Philippines!
How many current franchises will have that sort of fan following 10 years after launch?
So we watched and we waited. We saved our pennies and looked for new ways to make something special with the Battle Realms IP, something that we could self-fund and therefore own. At first we thought it would be a Facebook game - a hardcore, deeply engaging experience on Facebook no less - but with the advent of smartphones, that didn't make as much sense to us.
Phones and tablets can go anywhere, share the same portable, widescreen form-factor, and will transform gaming and entertainment as we know it. We believe that the world of the tethered gaming experience is winding down and that mobile devices will become the hub of all entertainment, not just games. So we're going for it.
Why did you think a card game would be the best approach to take?
Battle Realms isn't just a popular RTS. Like Warcraft, there is a whole world there. Given that it's been about a decade since the release of the original title, we thought that a card game would be a great way to introduce the characters to new players, while giving our loyal fans something new to play with.
It also allows us to showcase the world in a 'take it with you' format - something to play between appointments or waiting at the doctor's office.
Card games tend to be something of gaming niche so how do you expect to maximise its appeal?
We are taking a multi-pronged approach:
Card style - we're shooting for a card style that is different enough that you could pick our cards out of a pile of competitors.
Play style - the play of the card game will be based on the original RTS, which leads to a number of interesting play mechanics that haven't been seen before (but it's way too early to talk about those!).
Fast play - most card games take a minimum of 30 minutes per match. We want our matches to go no more than 10 minutes. We want you to feel that you can play it anytime, anywhere.
Extended play - even though the individual battles will be quick, they will be tied together with a story/campaign that will pull you through the experience. You won't feel like you're just grinding cards over and over again.
What are your plans in terms of multiplayer modes?
Right now we're looking at Player vs. Player (1 to 1) over a network (remote play), via Bluetooth (local), and on the same device. In that case, we're thinking Head-to-Head (device goes between you and your opponent, each has half of the screen) or Hot Swap (pass the device around to take turns).
Post-launch plans include the possibility of three to six player matches but nothing is set in stone.
As a PC/console developer, how are you finding developing for mobile platforms?
We find that working on mobile devices like the iPhone is a dream. Apple has been great and our staff has transitioned seamlessly. As you might expect, the trick is to figure out how to maximise the user experience within such a small footprint. It turns out our guys have been doing just that on various platforms for years now, so we're doing alright.
What's really outstanding is the production value we can bring to these devices. Everything can look and run beautifully on modern devices, a far cry from the early days of BREW.
Lastly, the turnaround time can't be beat. We are making daily progress on the game and that's so different from some of the megalith titles we have worked on in the past. In those cases, we would have to sometimes go weeks or even months before seeing a feature working as intended. Everything on the mobile side has been measured in days. It gives us great freedom to iterate and ensure that the best possible experience emerges.
On the business side of things, we have run a very stable business for many years now (knock on wood!). We have managed our resources wisely and kept the studio's growth in check. That careful approach has given us the resources to fund the game ourselves, a nice competitive advantage from where we stand.
In the press release, you talk about this being the first of a slate of products, so should we expect more Battle Realms games in 2012?
We believe the Battle Realms IP has a lot of potential. We are working on a plan that uses the universe we created for the original game in a variety of game genres and we're even looking beyond games. Stay tuned, I guess :)
Thanks to Ed for his time.